The gym at Greenbriar School is large, cool, dim, new. And nearly empty Tuesday morning, Election Day for a midterm, known for low turnout, and a primary, which are even lower.
Of course, I’m here. I never miss an election. Demographics help explain why.
I’m in the sweet spot of people who benefit most from our system: white, older, upper income. I fly the flag, and believe in the promise of America no matter how many times that promise is revealed as a lie.
So why bother voting?
That was the traditional question even before Donald Trump spent years taking a pickax to public trust in elections. Millions of Americans — a block equal in size to voters in either party — vote by not voting, a silent shrug that says, “What does it matter, Democrat or Republican?”
Voting sure mattered in 2016, when a few swing states sent us plunging into the abyss of Trumpism triumphant. Voting also mattered in 2020, maybe. Depending on whether our brush with autocracy was thwarted or merely delayed.
Voting matters now in Illinois, a blue island in a sea of red states. A state where women enjoy reproductive freedom, while Indiana and Missouri and Iowa drag them kicking and screaming back to the dark ages.
As important as the 2020 presidential election was, only 66.9% of those eligible cast ballots. With a plague raging and a sociopath in the White House, a third of America yawned, shrugged and couldn’t be bothered.
Midterm primaries are even worse. In 2018, only a quarter — 26.5 percent — of Illinoisans voted. And that was improvement; in 2014, it was 18.1%. Chicago set a record that year—16.5 percent. At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Chicago voter turnout snail crawled slightly past that.
A glance at Tuesday’s ballot gives a hint why. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth didn’t have an opponent. Nor U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider. Nor the comptroller. Nor the treasurer. That isn’t democracy; it’s a coronation.
Names of candidates emerge like strangers stumbling out of a fog. Does Casey Chiebek, Peggy Hubbard or Jimmy Lee Tillman ring a bell? They should, because they were all GOP candidates for U.S. Senate.
But without a big megaphone of money, they simply didn’t register.
Why vote? Why do the biennial eeny, meeny, miny, moe?
Lack of participation helps explain the gap between what Americans want and what they get. Two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most cases.
Yet it just got banned in half the nation because we are a republic, meaning representatives get to choose their voters, massage their districts, steamroll the will of the majority.
Why don’t more people vote? Some have valid reasons. They are busy with demanding jobs and families, or located in areas where polling places have been cut back. They have to drive miles, wait hours. I strolled one block west of my house, on a perfect, cloudless June day.
The only thing missing were wandering peacocks and glissando harp music.
For me, voting is a small semi-public act of private optimism. It’s good for the country and good for me. Voting takes less time than daily flossing. It’s cheaper than contributing to a 401(k).
It is a single breath blown upon the guttering spark of liberty, the idea that we are not a nation of serfs, awaiting orders from our masters. Not yet anyway. Still a free people, bending leaders to our will.
That could change. We won’t know until 2024, when — please God — Donald Trump loses the vote, again, and tries to steal the election, again, and fails, again. Unless it works. Many supposed democracies hold sham elections where the votes cast are not reflected in the landslide for the beloved leader. We might be next.
Until then, my vote is a heartfelt cry for a better America, a prayer to democracy, a sign of faith in a system too often warped, twisted, misused, perverted.
Those who refuse to go through the motions have their reasons. But those who know the score and vote anyway are not wrong.
We insist, despite everything, upon participating in a system that, at its best, sometimes gives every individual the dignity of a say, a vote, that rare moment when the powerless speak to the powerful and, sometimes, in theory, have our voices heard.